Feeding the suckler cow after calving

With spring calving either underway or shortly beginning in suckler herds, it’s time to consider what levels of feeding the cow will require once she has calved down.

The focus will be on the body condition score (BCS) of the cow when it comes to feeding. Farmers need to identify their well-conditioned cows and their thinner cows / first-time calvers that will require that extra bit of care.

Remember that the energy requirements of a suckler cow will be approximately double that of a dry cow. This is due to the lactating cow focusing on milk production, maintenance and growth (in young cows).

If there is an imbalance and feed requirements are not met, the cow will start to use her body reserves. This will have a negative impact for breeding later on in the year. 

A key figure to keep in mind is that a cow has approximately 80 days to recover between calving and breeding if they are to maintain a 365-day calving interval.

suckler calving

Feeding rate

It’s hard to envision cows heading out to grass with calves anytime soon on some farms; therefore, the focus will be on feeding the cow indoors.

If a cow has a BCS of 2.5 or over, then feeding good quality silage, >70% dry matter digestibility (DMD), should suffice until the cow is allowed out to pasture.

If the quality of silage is poor (<68%DMD), then concentrate feeding of 1-2kg is necessary, according to Teagasc.

The meal should have a high energy value (UFL 0.94+), alongside a protein content of 16%.

Teagasc also recommends that cows with a BCS of less than 2.5, or is in poor condition, are fed good/moderate quality silage along with 2-3kg. This will be required until turnout.

Turning the attention to first-time calvers, the recommendation is to feed 1-2kg of meal along with good quality silage. Poor quality silage being fed to these females will require 2-3kg of meal supplemented into her diet, according to Teagasc.

A good management tip is to keep an eye on the cows at feeding and be watchful of bullying on younger cows, shy cows or lame cows. These may need to be removed from the pen in order to provide them with extra care.

Supplementing minerals

Alongside silage, minerals should also be provided to the lactating suckler cow.

Major elements such as calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P) and sodium (Na) will be adequately supplied in grass silage and also grazed grass. During the tetany high risk period, magnesium (mg) must be supplied.

According to Teagasc, cows need a supplement of 30g of magnesium (or 60g of calcined magnesite) during the high risk period

The lower end of the range is for routine use and the higher levels are advised for stock at risk of severe deficiency. Data source: Teagasc

Minerals can be can provided through powder dusting on top of silage, molassed mineral buckets, through water application or a ‘nut’ concentrate.